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Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: Reauthorization Fact Sheet

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The Healthcare Research and Quality Act of 1999 reauthorizes the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, changing its name to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). It also affirms the Agency's existing goals and research priorities.



Background

On December 6, 1999, President Clinton signed the Healthcare Research and Quality Act of 1999, reauthorizing the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (AHCPR) until the end of fiscal year 2005. The authorizing legislation establishes Federal agencies and programs and outlines their roles and responsibilities.

Reauthorization—the process of renewing an agency's original legislation—gives Congress an opportunity to make changes to the original roles and responsibilities it outlined. AHCPR has been operating without an authorization since 1995, but it has received operating funds through the congressional appropriations process.

Significant Changes

One of the most visible changes resulting from the Act is that AHCPR will now be known as the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The new law also changes the title of the Administrator of AHCPR to the Director of AHRQ.

The new name is significant because it:

  • Reaffirms that AHRQ is a scientific research agency.
  • Corrects the misperception that the Agency determines Federal healthcare policies and regulations by removing "policy" from the Agency name.
  • Adds the word "quality" to the Agency's name, thus establishing AHRQ as the lead Federal agency on quality of care research, with new responsibility to coordinate all Federal quality improvement efforts and health services research. The Agency has been fulfilling this function since 1998 through its leadership role in the Federal Quality Interagency Coordination (QuIC) Task Force.

This legislation eliminates a requirement that the Agency support the development of clinical practice guidelines. The Agency ended its clinical guidelines program in 1996.

The Agency now supports the development of evidence reports through its 12 Evidence-based Practice Centers and the dissemination of evidence-based guidelines through the Agency's National Guideline Clearinghouse™.

Overarching Philosophy

The legislation also positions the Agency as a "science partner," working collaboratively with the public and private sectors to improve the quality and safety of patient care.

Under the legislation AHRQ will:

  • Meet the information needs of its customers—patients and clinicians, health system leaders, and policymakers—so that they can make more informed healthcare decisions.
  • Build the evidence base for what works and doesn't work in healthcare and develop the information, tools, and strategies that decisionmakers can use to make good decisions and provide high-quality healthcare based on evidence.
  • Develop scientific knowledge in these areas but will not mandate guidelines or standards for measuring quality.
AHRQ, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the lead agency charged with supporting research designed to improve the quality of healthcare, reduce its cost, improve patient safety, decrease medical errors, and broaden access to essential services. AHRQ sponsors and conducts research that provides evidence-based information on healthcare outcomes; quality; and cost, use, and access. The information helps healthcare decisionmakers—patients and clinicians, health system leaders, and policymakers—make more informed decisions and improve the quality of healthcare services.

 

Research Priorities

The Act affirms the Agency's existing goals and research priorities:

  • Support improvement in health outcomes.
  • Strengthen quality measurement and improvement.
  • Identify strategies to improve access, foster appropriate use, and reduce unnecessary expenditures.

More specifically, the legislation directs AHRQ to:

  • Improve the quality of healthcare by:
    1. Coordinating, conducting, and supporting research, demonstrations, and evaluations related to the measurement and improvement of healthcare quality.
    2. Developing annual reports to the Nation on trends in healthcare quality and trends in healthcare disparities.
    3. Disseminating scientific findings about what works best and facilitating public access to information on the quality of and consumer satisfaction with healthcare.
  • Promote patient safety and reduce medical errors by:
    1. Developing research and building partnerships with healthcare practitioners and healthcare systems to reduce medical errors.
    2. Establishing the Centers for Education and Research on Therapeutics (CERTs) as a permanent program. This initiative helps reduce adverse drug events by conducting state-of-the-art clinical and laboratory research to increase awareness of both the uses and risks of new drugs and drug combinations, biological products, and devices as well as of mechanisms to improve their safe and effective use. The CERTs initiative was originally established as a short-term demonstration program under the Food and Drug Modernization Act.
      Select for more information on Medical Errors.
  • Advance the use of information technology for coordinating patient care and conducting quality and outcomes research by:
    1. Promoting the use of information systems to develop and disseminate individual provider- and plan-level comparative performance measures.
    2. Creating effective linkages between various sources of health information to enhance the delivery and coordination of evidence-based healthcare services.
    3. Promoting the protection of individually identifiable patient information used in health services research and healthcare quality improvement.
  • Expand the Agency's existing commitment to research on the cost and use of healthcare services and access to services by:
    1. Establishing an Office of Priority Populations to ensure that the needs of these populations are addressed throughout the Agency's intramural and extramural research portfolio.
    2. Supporting research on the cost and utilization of and the access to healthcare.
    3. Maintaining a Center for Primary Care Research and supporting the work of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Impact

The reauthorization legislation shows clear, bipartisan support for the role AHCPR played—and AHRQ will play—in using research to improve the use and quality of healthcare, reduce its cost, and enhance access to services.

While the Healthcare Research and Quality Act of 1999 makes significant changes to the Agency, it will not change its commitment to funding the research and developing the tools that improve healthcare quality by enhancing its value and outcomes and by broadening access to services.

For More Information

For more information, contact Karen Migdail at (301) 427-1855 or visit the AHRQ Web site at http://www.ahrq.gov.

AHRQ Publication No. 00-P002
Current as of December 1999

 

The information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.

 

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